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What is it Like to Teach Black Students?





Date: 2010-03-08, 10:01PM PST

Reply to: see below



What is it Like to Teach Black Students?



[Black students]



(The following is a an open letter from a White School teacher who had the experience of teaching Black youth.)




Until recently I taught at a predominantly black high school in a southeastern state.



The mainstream press gives a hint of what conditions are like in black schools, but only a hint. Expressions journalists use like “chaotic” or “poor learning environment” or “lack of discipline” do not capture what really happens. There is nothing like the day-to-day experience of teaching black children and that is what I will try to convey.



One of the most immediately striking things about my students was that they were loud. They had little conception of ordinary decorum. It was not unusual for five students to be screaming at me at once.



It did no good to try to quiet them and white women were particularly inept at trying. I sat in on one woman’s class as she begged the children to pipe down. They just yelled louder so their voices would carry over hers.



They seemed to have no conception of waiting for an appropriate time to say something. They would get ideas in their heads and simply had to shout them out. I might be leading a discussion on government and suddenly be interrupted: “We gotta get more Democrats! Clinton, she good!” The student may seem content with that outburst but two minutes later, he would suddenly start yelling again: “Clinton good!”



Anyone who is around young blacks will probably get a constant diet of rap music. Blacks often make up their own jingles, and it was not uncommon for 15 boys to swagger into a classroom, bouncing their shoulders and jiving back.



They were yelling back and forth, rapping 15 different sets of


words in the same harsh, rasping dialect.


The words were almost invariably


a childish form of boasting: “Who got



dem shine rim, who got dem shine shoe,


who got dem shine grill (gold and silver


dental caps)?” The amateur rapper usually


ends with a claim—in the crudest


terms imaginable—that all womankind


is sexually devoted to him. For whatever


reason, my students would often groan


instead of saying a particular word, as in,



“She suck dat aaahhhh (think of a long


grinding groan), she f**k dat aaaahhhh,


she lick dat aaaahhh.”



So many black girls dance in the hall, in the classroom,


on the chairs, next to the chairs, under


the chairs, everywhere. Once I took a


call on my cell phone and had to step


outside of class. I was away about two



minutes but when I got back, the


girls had lined up at the front of the


classroom and were convulsing to the


delight of the boys.



Many black people, especially


women, are enormously fat. Some are


so fat I had to arrange special seating to



accommodate their bulk. I am not saying


there are no fat white students—there


are—but it is a matter of numbers and


attitudes. Many black girls simply do not


care that they are fat. There are plenty


of white anorexics, but I have never met


or heard of a black anorexic.



“Black women be big Mr. Jackson,”



my students would explain.



“Is it okay in the black community to


be a little overweight?” I ask.


Two obese girls in front of


my desk begin to dance, “You know


dem boys lak juicy fruit, Mr. Jackson.”


“Juicy” is a colorful black expression



for the buttocks.



Blacks, on average, are the most directly critical


people I have ever met: “Dat shirt stupid.


Yo’ kid a bastard. Yo’ lips big.” Unlike


whites, who tread gingerly around the


subject of race, they can be brutally to


the point. Once I needed to send a student


to the office to deliver a message. I



asked for volunteers, and suddenly you


would think my classroom was a bastion


of civic engagement. Thirty dark hands


shot into the air. My students loved to


leave the classroom and slack off, even


if just for a few minutes, away from the


eye of white authority. I picked a light-skinned


boy to deliver the message. One



very black student was indignant: “You


pick da half-breed.” And immediately


other blacks take up the cry, and half


a dozen mouths are screaming, “He


half-breed.”



For decades, the country has been


lamenting the poor academic performance


of blacks and there is much to



lament. There is no question, however,


that many blacks come to school with a


serious handicap that is not their fault.


At home they have learned a dialect that


is almost a different language. Blacks


not only mispronounce words; their


grammar is often wrong. When a black


wants to ask, “Where is the bathroom?”



he may actually say “Whar da badroom


be?” Grammatically, this is the equivalent


of “Where the bathroom is?” And


this is the way they speak in high school.


Students write the way they speak, so


this is the language that shows up in


written assignments.



It is true that some whites face a



similar handicap. They speak with


what I would call a “country” accent


that is hard to reproduce but results in


sentences such as “I’m gonna gemme


a Coke.” Some of these country whites


had to learn correct pronunciation and


usage. The difference is that most whites


overcome this handicap and learn to



speak correctly; many blacks do not.



Most of the blacks I taught simply


had no interest in academic subjects. I


taught history, and students would often


say they didn’t want to do an assignment


or they didn’t like history because it was


all about white people. Of course, this


was “diversity” history, in which every



cowboy’s black cook got a special page


on how he contributed to winning the


West, but black children still found it


inadequate. So I would throw up my


hands and assign them a project on a


real, historical black person. My favorite


was Marcus Garvey. They had never


heard of him, and I would tell them to



research him, but they never did. They


didn’t care and they didn’t want to do


any work.



Anyone who teaches blacks soon


learns that they have a completely different


view of government from whites.


Once I decided to fill 25 minutes by


having students write about one thing



the government should do to improve


America. I gave this question to three


classes totaling about 100 students,


approximately 80 of whom were black.


My white students came back with


generally “conservative” ideas. “We


need to cut off people who don’t work,”


was the most common suggestion.



Nearly every black gave a variation on


the theme of “We need more government


services.”



My students had only the vaguest


notion of who pays for government


services. For them, it was like a magical


piggy bank that never goes empty. One


black girl was exhorting the class on



the need for more social services and I


kept trying to explain that people, real


live people, are taxed for the money to


pay for those services. “Yeah, it come


from whites,” she finally said. “They


stingy anyway.”



“Many black people make over



$50,000 dollars a year and you would


also be taking away from your own


people,” I said.



She had an answer to that: “Dey


half breed.” The class agreed. I let the


subject drop.



Many black girls are perfectly happy



to be welfare queens. On career day, one


girl explained to the class that she was


going to have lots of children and get fat


checks from the government. No one in


the class seemed to have any objection


to this career choice.



Surprising attitudes can come out in



class discussion. We were talking about


the crimes committed in the aftermath of


Hurricane Katrina, and I brought up the


rape of a young girl in the bathroom of


the Superdome. A majority of my students


believed this was a horrible crime


but a few took it lightly. One black boy


spoke up without raising his hand: “Dat


no big deal. They thought they is gonna



die so they figured they have some fun.


Dey jus’ wanna have a fun time; you


know what I’m sayin’?” A few black


heads nodded in agreement.



My department head once asked all


the teachers to get a response from all


students to the following question: “Do



you think it is okay to break the law if it


will benefit you greatly?” By then, I had


been teaching for a while and was not


surprised by answers that left a young,


liberal, white woman colleague aghast.


“Yeah” was the favorite answer. As one


student explained, “Get dat green.”



There is a level of conformity among



blacks that whites would find hard to


believe. They like one kind


of music: rap. They will


vote for one political party:


Democrat. They dance


one way, speak one way,


are loud the same way,


and fail their exams in the



same way. Of course, there


are exceptions but they


are rare.



Whites are different.


Some like country music,


others heavy metal, some


prefer pop, and still others,


God forbid, enjoy rap music. They have



different associations, groups, almost


ideologies. There are jocks, nerds,


preppies, and hunters. Blacks are all—


well—black, and they are quick to let


other blacks know when they deviate


from the norm.



One might object that there are important



group differences among blacks that a white man simply cannot detect. I


have done my best to find them, but so


far as I can tell, they dress the same, talk


the same, think the same. Certainly, they


form rival groups, but the groups are not


different in any discernible way. There


simply are no groups of blacks that are


as distinctly different from each other


as white “nerds,” “hunters,” or “Goths,”



for example.



How the world looks to blacks


One point on which all blacks agree


is that everything is “racis’.” This is


one message of liberalism they have


absorbed completely. Did you do your


homework? “Na, homework racis’.”



Why did you get an F on the test? “Test


racis’.”



I was trying to teach a unit on British


philosophers and the first thing the students


noticed about Bentham, Hobbes,


and Locke was “Dey all white! Where da


black philosophers’?” I tried to explain


there were no blacks in eighteenth century



Britain. You can probably guess


what they said to that: “Dat racis’!”


One student accused me of deliberately


failing him on a test because I


didn’t like black people.



“Do you think I really hate black


people?”



“Yeah.”


“Have I done anything to make you


feel this way? How do you know?”


“You just do.”


“Why do you say that?”



He just smirked, looked out the window,


and sucked air through his teeth.


Perhaps this was a regional thing, but



the blacks often sucked air through their


teeth as a wordless expression of disdain


or hostility.



My students were sometimes unable


to see the world except through the lens


of their own blackness. I had a class


that was host to a German exchange



student. One day he put on a Power Point


presentation with famous German landmarks


as well as his school and family.



From time to time during the presentation,


blacks would scream, “Where da


black folk?!” The exasperated German


tried several times to explain that there


were no black people where he lived in



Germany. The students did not believe


him. I told them Germany is in Europe,


where white people are from, and Africa


is where black people are from. They


insisted that the German student was


racist and deliberately refused to associate


with blacks.




Blacks are keenly interested in


their own racial characteristics. I have


learned, for example, that some blacks


have “good hair.” Good hair is black


parlance for black-white hybrid hair.


Apparently, it is less kinky, easier to


style, and considered more attractive.


Blacks are also proud of light skin.


Imagine two black students shouting



insults across the room. One is dark


but slim; the other light and obese. The


dark one begins the exchange: “You


fat, Ridario!” Ridario smiles, doesn’t deign to look


at his detractor, shakes his head like a


wobbling top, and says, “You wish you


light skinned.”




They could go on like this, repeating


the same insults over and over.



My black students had nothing but


contempt for Hispanic immigrants. They


would vent their feelings so crudely


that our department strongly advised us


never to talk about immigration in class


in case the principal or some outsider



might overhear.



Whites were “racis’,” of course, but


they thought of us at least as Americans.


Not the Mexicans. Blacks have a certain,


not necessarily hostile understanding of


white people. They know how whites


act, and it is clear they believe whites



are smart and are good at organizing


things. At the same time, they probably


suspect whites are just putting on an


act when they talk about equality, as if


it is all a sham that makes it easier for


whites to control blacks. Blacks want a


bigger piece of the American pie. I’m


convinced that if it were up to them


they would give whites a considerably



smaller piece than whites get now, but


they would give us something. They


wouldn’t give Mexicans anything.



What about black boys and white


girls? No one is supposed to


notice this or talk about it but


it is glaringly obvious: Black



boys are obsessed with white


girls. I’ve witnessed the following


drama countless times. A black


boy saunters up to a white


girl. The cocky black dances


around her, not really in a menacing


way. It’s more a shuffle


than a threat. As he bobs and


shuffles he asks, “When you



gonna go wit’ me?”



There are two kinds of reply.


The more confident white


girl gets annoyed, looks away


from the black and shouts, “I don’t wanna


go out with you!” The more demure


girl will look at her feet and mumble



a polite excuse but ultimately say no.



There is only one response from the


black boy: “You racis’.” Many girls—all


too many—actually feel guilty because


they do not want to date blacks. Most


white girls at my school stayed away


from blacks, but a few, particularly the


ones who were addicted to drugs, fell



in with them.



There is something else that is striking


about blacks. They seem to have


no sense of romance, of falling in love.


What brings men and women together is


sex, pure and simple, and there is a crude


openness about this. There are many degenerate



whites, of course, but some of


my white students were capable of real


devotion and tenderness, emotions that


seemed absent from blacks—especially


the boys.



Black schools are violent and the


few whites who are too poor to escape


are caught in the storm. The violence is



astonishing, not so much that it happens,


but the atmosphere in which it happens.


Blacks can be smiling, seemingly perfectly


content with what they are doing,


having a good time, and then, suddenly


start fighting. It’s uncanny. Not long


ago, I was walking through the halls


and a group of black boys were walking



in front of me. All of a sudden they


started fighting with another group in


the hallway.



Blacks are extraordinarily quick to


take offense. Once I accidentally scuffed


a black boy’s white sneaker with my


shoe. He immediately rubbed his body


up against mine and threatened to attack



me. I stepped outside the class and had


a security guard escort the student to


the office. It was unusual for students


to threaten teachers physically this way,


but among themselves, they were quick


to fight for similar reasons.



The real victims are the unfortunate



whites caught in this. They are always


in danger and their educations suffer.


White weaklings are particularly susceptible,


but mostly to petty violence. They


may be slapped or get a couple of kicks


when they are trying to open a bottom


locker. Typically, blacks save the hard,


serious violence for each other.



There was a lot of promiscuous sex


among my students and this led to


violence. Black girls were constantly


fighting over black boys. It was not uncommon


to see two girls literally ripping


each other’s hair out with a police officer


in the middle trying to break up the


fight. The black boy they were fighting



over would be standing by with a smile,


enjoying the show he had created. For


reasons I cannot explain, boys seldom


fought over girls.



Pregnancy was common among the


blacks, though many black girls were


so fat I could not tell the difference. I


don’t know how many girls got abortions,



but when they had the baby they


usually stayed in school and had their


own parents look after the child. The


school did not offer daycare.



Aside from the police officers constantly on campus, security guards are everywhere in


black schools—we had one on every


hall. They also sat in on unruly classes



and escorted students to the office. They


were unarmed but worked closely with


the three city police officers who were


constantly on duty.



There was a lot of drug-dealing at


my school. This was a way to


make a fair amount of money but it


also gave boys power over girls who



wanted drugs. An addicted girl—black


or white—became the plaything of anyone


who could get her drugs.



One of my students was a notorious


drug dealer. Everyone knew it. He was


19 years old and in eleventh grade. Once


he got a score of three out of 100 on a



test. He had been locked up four times


since he was 13.



One day, I asked him, “Why do you


come to school?”



He wouldn’t answer. He just looked


out the window, smiled, and sucked air


through his teeth. His friend Yidarius



ventured an explanation: “He get dat


green and get dem females.”



“What is the green?” I asked. “Money


or dope?” “Both,” said Yidarius with a smile.



A very fat student interrupted from


across the room: “We get dat lunch,” Mr.



Jackson. “We gotta get dat lunch and


brickfuss.” He means the free breakfast


and lunch poor students get every day.


“Nigga, we know’d you be lovin’


brickfuss!” shouts another student.



Some readers may believe that I


have drawn a cruel caricature of black


students. After all, according to official



figures some 85 percent of them graduate.


It would be instructive to know how


many of those scraped by with barely a


C- record. They go from grade to grade


and they finally get their diplomas


because there is so much pressure on


teachers to push them through. It saves


money to move them along, the school



looks good and the teachers look good.



Many of these children should have been


failed but the system would crack under


their weight if they were all held back.



How did my experiences make me


feel about blacks? Ultimately, I lost


sympathy for them. In so many ways



they seem to make their own beds.


There they were in an integrationist’s


fantasy—in the same classroom with


white students, eating the same lunch,


using the same bathrooms, listening to


the same teachers—and yet the blacks


fail while the whites pass.




One tragic outcome among whites


who have been teaching for too long


is that it can engender something close


to hatred. One teacher I knew gave up


fast food—not for health reasons but


because where he lived most fast-food


workers were black. He had enough of


blacks on the job. This was an extreme


example but years of frustration can



take their toll. Many of my white colleagues


with any experience were well


on their way to that state of mind.



There is an unutterable secret among


teachers: Almost all realize that blacks


do not respond to traditional white


instruction. Does that put the lie to environmentalism?



Not at all. It is what


brings about endless, pointless innovation


that is supposed to bring blacks up


to the white level. The solution is more diversity—or put


more generally, the solution is change.


Change is an almost holy word in education,


and you can fail a million times as


long as you keep changing. That is why


liberals keep revamping the curriculum



and the way it is taught. For example,


teachers are told that blacks need hands-on


instruction and more group work.



Teachers are told that blacks are more


vocal and do not learn through reading


and lectures. The implication is that they


have certain traits that lend themselves



to a different kind of teaching.



Whites have learned a certain way for


centuries but it just doesn’t work with


blacks. Of course, this implies racial


differences but if pressed, most liberal


teachers would say different racial


learning styles come from some indefinable


cultural characteristic unique to



blacks. Therefore, schools must change,


America must change. But into what?


How do you turn quantum physics into


hands-on instruction or group work? No


one knows, but we must keep changing


until we find something that works.



Public school has certainly changed



since anyone reading this was a student.


I have a friend who teaches elementary


school and she tells me that every week


the students get a new diversity lesson,


shipped in fresh from some bureaucrat’s


office in Washington or the state


capital. She showed me the materials


for one week: a large poster,


about the size of a forty-two inch



flat-screen television. It shows


an utterly diverse group—I mean


diverse: handicapped, Muslim,


Jewish, effeminate, poor, rich,


brown, slightly brown, yellow,


etc.—sitting at a table, smiling


gaily, accomplishing some undefined


task. The poster comes with



a sheet of questions the teacher is


supposed to ask. One might be: “These


kids sure look different, but they look


happy. Can you tell me which one in


the picture is an American?”



Some eight-year-old, mired in ignorance,


will point to a white child like


himself. “That one.”




The teacher reads from the answer,


conveniently printed along with the


question. “No, Billy, all these children


are Americans. They are just as American


as you.”



This is what happens at predominately white,



middle-class, elementary schools everywhere.


Elementary school teachers love All


of the Colors of the Race, by award-winning


children’s poet Arnold Adoff.



These are some of the lines they read


to the children: “Mama is chocolate …


Daddy is vanilla … Me (sic) is better …


It is a new color. It is a new flavor. For



love. Sometimes blackness seems too


black for me, and whiteness is too sickly


pale; and I wish every one were golden.


Remember: long ago before people


moved and migrated, and mixed and


matched … there was one people: one


color, one race. The colors are flowing


from what was before me to what will



be after. All the colors.”



Teaching as a career


It may come as a surprise after what


I have written, but my experiences have


given me a deep appreciation for teaching


as a career. It offers a stable, middle-class


life but comes with the capacity


to make real differences in the lives of



children. In our modern, atomized world


children often have very little communication


with adults—especially, or even,


with their parents—so there is potential


for a real transaction between pupil and


teacher, disciple and master.



A rewarding relationship can grow



up between an exceptional, interested


student and his teacher. I have stayed in


my classroom with a group of students


discussing ideas and playing chess until


the janitor kicked us out. I was the


old gentleman, imparting my history,


culture, personal loves and triumphs,


defeats and failures to young kinsman.


Sometimes I fancied myself Tyrtaeus,



the Spartan poet, who counseled the


youth to honor and loyalty. I never had


this kind intimacy with a black student,


and I know of no other white teacher


who did.



Teaching can be fun. For a certain


kind of person it is exhilarating to map



out battles on chalkboards, and teach


heroism. It is rewarding to challenge


liberal prejudices, to leave my mark on


these children, but what I aimed for with


my white students I could never achieve


with the blacks.



There is a kind of child whose look


can melt your heart: some working-class



castaway, in and out of foster homes,


often abused, who is nevertheless almost


an angel. Your heart melts for these children,


this refuse of the modern world.



Many white students possess a certain


innocence; their cheeks still blush.


Try as I might, I could not get the



blacks to care one bit about Beethoven


or Sherman’s march to the sea, or


Tyrtaeus, or Oswald Spengler, or even


liberals like John Rawls, or their own


history. They cared about nothing I


tried to teach them. When this goes on


year after year it chokes the soul out


of a teacher, destroys his pathos, and


sends him guiltily searching for The Bell



Curve on the Internet.



Blacks break down the intimacy that


can be achieved in the classroom, and


leave you convinced that that intimacy


is really a form of kinship. Without


intending to, they destroy what is most


beautiful—whether it be your belief in



human equality, your daughter’s innocence,


or even the state of the hallway.



Just last year I read on the


bathroom stall the words “F**k


Whitey.” Not two feet away, on the


same stall, was a small swastika.



The National Council for the Social



Studies, the leading authority on social


science education in the United States,


urges teachers to inculcate such values


as equality of opportunity, individual


property rights, and a democratic form


of government. Even if teachers could


inculcate this milquetoast ideology into


whites, liberalism is doomed because so



many non-whites are not receptive to


education of any kind beyond the merest


basics.



It is impossible to


get them to care about such abstractions


as property rights or democratic citizenship.


They do not see much further than


the fact that you live in a big house and



“we in da pro-jek.” Of course, there are a


few loutish whites who will never think


past their next meal and a few sensitive


blacks for whom anything is possible,


but no society takes on the characteristics


of its exceptions.



Once I asked my students, “What do



you think of the Constitution?”


“It white,” one slouching black rang


out. The class began to laugh. And I


caught myself laughing along with them,


laughing while Pompeii’s volcano simmers,


while the barbarians swell around


the Palatine, while the country I love,


and the job I love, and the community I


love become dimmer by the day.




I read a book by an expatriate Rhodesian


who visited Zimbabwe not


too many years ago. Traveling with a


companion, she stopped at a store along


the highway. A black man materialized


next to her car window. “Job, boss, (I)


work good, boss,” he pleaded. “You



give job.”



“What happened to your old job?”


the expatriate white asked. The man replied in the straightforward


manner of his race: “We drove


out the whites. No more jobs. You give


job.”



At some level, my students understand



the same thing. One day I asked


the bored, black faces staring back


at me. “What would happen if all the


white people in America disappeared


tomorrow?”



“We screwed,” a young, pitch-black


boy screamed back. The rest of the



blacks laughed.



I have had children tell me to my face


as they struggled with an assignment. “I


cain’t do dis,” Mr. Jackson. “I black.”



The point is that human beings are not


always rational. It is in the black man’s


interest to have whites in Zimbabwe but



he drives them out and starves. Most


whites do not think black Americans


could ever do anything so irrational.


They see blacks on television smiling,


fighting evil whites, embodying


white values. But the real black is not


on television, and you pull your purse


closer when you see him, and you lock



the car doors when he swaggers by


with his pants hanging down almost to


his knees.



I have been in parent-teacher conferences


that broke my heart: the child


pleading with his parents to take him


out of school; the parents convinced


their child’s fears are groundless. If you



love your child, show her you care—


not by giving her fancy vacations or a


car, but making her innocent years safe


and happy. Give her the gift of a not-heavily black


school.









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